Pittsburghers never had a chance to vote for a hometown hero on American Idol. This week, however, we all have the power to determine the fate of Alex Burkat, an electronic-music performer and film studies/English major in his last semester at Pitt, who has set local stages on fire for the past year as Pfunkt.
Armed with his video "Miss Behaven," Pfunkt has ascended to the electronic category's top five in an online music-video contest called Famecast, which provided him with a free flight and hotel room last week to appear live at Stubbs, a respected venue in Austin, Texas. The video and song were critiqued by such judges as NIN keyboardist Chris "Tweaker" Vrenna and The Heavy Weights, producers for Rihanna and Christina Milian. If Pfunkt pushes past the robot-masked Recorder (from Tulsa) and three U.K. artists, he will receive $10,000 in prize money and serious exposure, as well as a shot at a NeKo keyboard production station from Open Labs, worth another $6,000.
Things have come a long way rather quickly for Burkat. After tinkering with computer pop back home in Philly, he was inspired in 2005 by seeing Pittsburgh artists such as Grand Buffet and Girl Talk slaying crowds with energetic antics. He also seemed to borrow a bit from local electropopster Hotness, as well as "nu-electro" stylists Peaches, Tiga and Ladytron.
Since then, he has used his college-radio connections as former electronica director at WPTS, and his wide potential appeal, to wow various audiences, from playing at Flux 14 and Diesel to opening for national acts. He's even played a "Sweet 16" bash for two local girls -- evidence of a developing teen-age fanbase.
"They saw me at the Freezepop show," recalls Burkat, "and asked me to play at the Lava Lounge, which they rented during the day. Their moms even liked it -- when I asked if [the moms] thought it was too lewd and sexual, they said, 'At least we know you're joking. The stuff on the radio is a lot worse.'"
Such may be Pfunkt's inherent niche, with songs like "Confidance" and "Sexercise." Burkat crafts a persuasive and entertaining parody of the cultural paradigm, from hip hop and Euro-dance to teen-pop, and the kids seem to get it. German dance imprint Moonboutique recognized this by issuing a European 12-inch edition of "Confidance," while Australian label Patrol will release a new single on iTunes in January.
Meanwhile, local fans can show their support for Pittsburgh's latest electronic heartthrob by voting for him at www.famecast.com/pfunkt until the contest closes at noon, Sat., Dec. 15. Not only can you say you "knew him when" -- you can also boast that you helped him get to the top.